The ITA Global Perspective Programme – Why the world needs to know about underground space

Friday, 19 July 2013 13:41
K2_AuthorTagHan Admiraal, Rotterdam area, Netherlands, chairman of the ITA Committee on Underground Spac

As we speak the world population is growing at an accelerating pace. This fact alone is causing an unprecedented pressure on urban areas. Rapid urbanization is one of the major themes with which UN Habitat is dealing and which challenges cities around the globe. We have already passed the point where more than half the world’s population is living in urban areas. But by 2050 it is expected that 70% of the world’s population will live in cities. This means that all of the people living on our planet today will live in cities by 2050.

The world is facing major challenges

But apart from the massive population increase in urban areas, cities also have to deal with natural disaster and the effects of climate change. Temperatures are changing and so is the amount of rainfall. Megacities are struggling to cope with water after massive rainfall and valuable business districts are sometimes flooded. The Bangkok floods illustrated this very clearly. UNISDR, the International Strategy on Disaster Reduction, is dealing with this theme from the perspective of how to make cities worldwide more resilient. Can cities prepare themselves, but also can we design our cities in such a way that they do become more resilient?

As an international association of professionals in the field of tunnelling and underground space, the ITA has for many years tried to convince others that going underground is of major importance. Up to now however, this was purely based on the merits of underground space projects. The question whether or not the use of underground space ties in with any of the major challenges the world has to deal with, was never asked. The ITA Global Perspective Programme is set to change this. For the first time ITA is demonstrating to the world how underground space use can contribute to meeting some of the biggest challenges the world is facing.

The world needs genius, creativity and audacity

Juan Clos, the UN Habitat Executive Director, once said: “We need to demonstrate the change is possible through the genius, creativity and audacity of people and decision-makers to make the wisest choices for our urban future.” It is a clear statement, that when trying to come up with new solutions, we must look for different solutions than the ones we have been coming up with in the past. In terms of tunnelling this could be translated into rather than coming up with a traditional transport solution, the tunnel also becomes an energy structure. Wouldn’t that be interesting, tunnels that provide traffic solutions and provide energy to a local community? What this means is that more than ever integrated solutions are required to help cities cope with their challenges.

When looking at typical urban functions buildings, transport, energy, water and waste, we can conclude that the use of underground space can contribute and is contributing in all these fields. The trouble is that more often than not, these contributions are local and often one-off projects. They are carried out because the opportunity arose and not because someone had the vision and planned for it. This in turn means that showing genius, creativity and audacity in itself is not enough. The project in Helsinki whereby a cavern is used for computer data storage and the heat produced is used to warm 1.000 houses, is in itself sustainable. It is a great example of an integrated solution utilizing underground space for storage and energy. But is it part of a larger plan? Has due consideration been given to what to use underground space for?

The underground can be modelled as consisting of four resources: space, energy, geo-materials and water. Part of the ITA Global Perspective Programme is also to recognize that decisions need to be made as to how to use the underground space. In the current quest for alternative forms of energy it can be very attractive to utilize underground space for this purpose. It would mean that a forest of pipes will come into existence beneath our cities for both heat-cold exchange systems but also for geothermal applications. Who is controlling all this? Who is taking the decision that in certain areas this kind of applications cannot be used because of a planned future underground ring road?

For cities to develop in a sustainable manner, giving consideration to the use of underground space is paramount. Not doing this means a valuable societal asset is left unused. That in itself can be seen as being non sustainable. But using the underground space in such a way that he who comes first is served first, is in itself non-sustainable as well. This approach has a potential for underground chaos but also for leaving resources unused and unapproachable for future generations. Sustainable urban underground space use therefore calls for a vision on the use of underground space, but also on planning, deciding and delivering based on that vision.

Professionals need to pull together

Planning, deciding and delivering the use of underground space requires more expertise than just knowing a lot about how to do this. The ITA consists of professionals that really know everything about how to create underground spaces, be it tunnels or caverns. In order to fully achieve what has been described above, ITA needs to reach out to other professionals. It is exactly this, what the ITA Global Perspective Programme is aiming at achieving. Contact has been made with the IFME, the International Federation of Municipal Engineering. It is the Municipal Engineers that have to deliver and maintain our cities. Contact has been made with ISOCARP, the International Society of City and Regional Planners. It is the planners that have to appreciate the enormous potential of underground space and how to incorporate this into their plans for sustainable cities. Finally, we are in the process of contacting ICLEI, the international organization of local governments for sustainability. It is this organization that brings together the decision-makers who need to consider whether or not underground space use can contribute to meeting the challenges they are facing.

The ITA Global Perspective Programme

The ITA Global Perspective Programme is about working together with other professionals and helping the world meet its biggest challenges. It is about creating awareness as to the possibilities of underground space. It is also about pursuing a strategy of creating vision and planning the use of underground space. Finally we hope that by helping to identify and clear non-technical barriers to the use of underground space, cities worldwide will realize how they can utilize this societal asset and why they really should care about using underground space.

Last modified on Thursday, 13 November 2014 10:34
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